December 16, 2013

"DUI arrests for "probable cause" doesn't mandate that the police officer show a driver was actually under the influence, only that it is probable that he was".

1066864_police_cruiser.jpg A police officer need only have a reasonable suspicion that you have violated a traffic law (like the speed limit) or engaged in criminal activity to stop you. "Reasonable suspicion" means that there is a "particularized and objective basis" for believing somebody had violated the law. Once you are stopped, there must be probable cause to arrest you.

In a recent case, the Arizona Court of Appeals considered whether there was probable cause where the defendant was convicted of four counts of aggravated driving under the influence (aggravated DUI). The defendant had been stopped in his vehicle after a police officer visually estimated he was going fifteen miles over the speed limit. According to the police offer, he'd been trained to accurately estimate vehicle speed within five miles per hour.

Once the officer stopped the defendant, he saw the defendant had watery bloodshot eyes, spoke with slurred speech, and smelled like alcohol. The defendant couldn't find his driver's license and gave the officer his social security number. It turned out that he provided his wife's social security number. When the officer learned this, he asked the defendant for his wife's social security number. This time, the defendant gave him his own number. The officer administered a test for alcohol impairment. When the defendant refused a breathalyzer test, he was arrested.

Continue reading "DUI Arrest without Breath, Blood, or Chemical Testing" »

November 28, 2013

How to avoid additional charges, and make sure your DUI stop does not turn deadly
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Recently a Mesa AZ police officer approached a vehicle and asked the driver if he had any weapons. The driver responded, affirmatively that he did in fact, have weapons in the vehicle. At that point he reached to the other side of the car and pulled a gun out of a holster from inside the vehicle. The officer apparently felt threatened, and reacted by drawing out his own sidearm. The police officer gave verbal commands for the driver to drop his weapon. The driver immediately dropped his weapon. The driver agreed to take a field sobriety test, which evidently did not go well for driver, since he was then taken to a command center to be booked for a DUI.

What went wrong that made this DUI stop potentially deadly?

Let's take a closer look at reported events; application of the law; and tips on how to avoid criminal charges that are unrelated to driving impairment. First, there is no legal duty to voluntarily tell an officer you are carrying a gun if you are pulled over while driving in Arizona. However, you should respond affirmatively to an officer who asks. You should never pull a firearm out or at the officer or cause those to feel threatened in anyway. The driver was fortunate that the officer responded apparently with levelheadedness.

Although most attorneys discourage suspects from volunteering any information to the officer in a stop, there are others who feel there are safety benefits for the driver to volunteer to an officer that they are carrying a weapon so long as they are prohibited possessor and it is a prohibited weapon. This will avoid the police officer being taken by surprise, it in the event a search is conducted of your vehicle. Some feel too, that volunteering this information will alert a law enforcement officer that you are not doing anything wrong.

With every widely observed holiday, you're likely you will see heightened police presence, enforcement and DUI Sobriety Checkpoints. DUI Roadblocks are set up with the intent to seek drivers for signs of intoxication or impairment, and make DUI arrests. The goal is to prevent motorists from driving impaired under the influenced of alcohol or drugs. DUI checkpoints can be considered "double edged sword" of sorts. Everyone wants impaired drivers off of the road. But if you've ever found yourself in a line-up waiting your turn through the checkpoint, you know it's no fun. Whether you are driving impaired or not, it's completely normal to feel a little nervous or anxious.

Most people sort of look around to make sure there is nothing in their vehicle that would give rise to the suspicion that they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In Arizona, you should know that when the officer stops you at a DUI checkpoint, arrests can be made for violations of other crimes too, not just impaired driving.

In absence of a formal DUI safety checkpoint, a police officer needs a "reasonable suspicion" that a violation of the law or crime has occurred or is in progress to stop a driver and conduct a DUI investigation. However, DUI checkpoints bypass this usual step. Not all states have laws authorizing use of DUI checkpoints, but in Arizona their use is becoming more prevalent.

Always, (one more time) "always", keep both hands on the wheel while you are talking to the officer. The exception to this, is if he instructs you to show him your license which requires you to take your hands on the wheel; or otherwise. Talk to the officer as calmly as possible, and when you must take your hands off the wheel to reach for your driver's license and registration, do so calmly as well.

Like the situation in Mesa described above, an officer who sees you reach into an area of the car he can't see may think that you are about to shoot. You do not have to reach for anything to extend a verbal affirmative or negative response.

If an officer who pulls you over for suspected DUI asks for your driver's license, you need to show your driver's license to him. Otherwise you may give the officer probable cause to conduct a further search and seizure. If the officer asks to search your car, you should say that you do not consent to a search. However, if the officer searches anyway, you must cooperate and you cannot put up any sort of resistance.

Field Sobriety Tests are not mandatory in Arizona. They are simply tools for Police to conduct roadside DUI screening and due to their unreliability may result in false conclusions. You can politely and lawfully refuse to participate in a field sobriety test. You should let the officer know that your reason for refusal is that you understand it is not mandatory by law, and it is your understanding that field sobriety tests are often unreliable and could give false impressions that a person is impaired when in fact they are not. You should be aware that refusing to submit to a field sobriety test may be cause for arrest or further detainment. You can and should refuse to answer questions based on your rights under the Constitution and request to speak with an attorney.

Arizona is an implied consent state. What does this mean to drivers? It means that there are civil penalties through the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) for refusal. If a driver refuses to take a breath or blood test to determine your BAC, your license may be revoked or suspended, whether they are were driving impaired or not; or convicted of the charges or not. All a refusal of a DUI breath or blood test costs you is a suspension of your driver's license for one year. But the choice of course is ultimately yours.

Continue reading "Arizona DUI Stops: Weapons in Your Vehicle " »

November 4, 2013

Appeals Court overturns conviction holding that the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant knew or should have known of the suspension.

mountain-road-1424189-m-1.jpgThere are several ways to get an aggravated DUI conviction in Arizona. Among the ways is driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs, medication, or illegal substances while having a suspended, cancelled, revoked, refused or restricted license. This is a class 4 felony.

However, you can also be charged with driving on a suspended license, which is a class 1 misdemeanor. Although the latter may not seem particularly important because it is a misdemeanor, it does give you a criminal record and can impact you in the future.

In a recent case, the defendant was charged with aggravated DUI while driving on a suspended license. The defendant did not appear for his trial and was tried without being present.

Continue reading "Aggravated DUI for Driving on Suspended License Defenses " »

August 27, 2013

Arizona V. Cooperman: DUI Partition Ratio relevant, competent evidence to show lack of DUI Impairment.

breathalyzer-465392-m.jpg Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) refers to the concentration of alcohol in the blood that can currently be measured either by a DUI blood test or a breath test. Interestingly, however, the results of a breathalyzer test for DUI may not always be the same as the results from a blood test. This may be the case even if the blood and breath are tested at the same time.


Partition Ratio in DUI Breathalyzer Tests

Breathalyzer tests produce a numerical score, only by mathematically converting the breath sample to a Blood Alcohol Concentration level. This conversion process is known as the "partition ratio" when the conversion factor is used. The conversion is considered problematic by some because it is not necessarily reflective of the actual partition ratio for an individual; actual partition ratios for individuals can vary. Factors that may cause the ratios to vary include but are not limited to body temperature, medical conditions and gender. This means a breathalyzer test for an individual may not accurately translate to a blood alcohol concentration level indicative of impairment.


Case Background: State of Arizona v. Cooperman

In a recent case, the Arizona Supreme Court addressed whether partition ratio evidence could be admitted in a DUI case where (1) the state chose to bring in breath test results to prove a defendant had a .08 percent or more BAC within two hours of driving, and (2) evidence related to how much partition ratios varied in the population was relevant to the defendant's level of impairment. The defendant here wanted to show how the partition ratio varies in the general population in order to introduce doubt as to whether the results of the breath test showed impairment.
In this case, a motorist charged with one count of driving while "impaired to the slightest degree" in violation of A.R.S. 28-1381 (A) 1; and the other was for having an alcohol concentration of .08 percent or more within two hours of driving in violation of A.R.S. 28-1381 (A) 2.

The Prosecution generally attempts to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the latter charge (.08 percent BAC) by presenting a jury with evidence of a defendant's blood alcohol content and establishing a DUI test sample was taken within two hours of the defendant driving. When a person's BAC is .08 percent or higher, the presumption is that a person is under the influence, in violation of Arizona's legal limit. However, to have a level below the .08 percent BAC does not however, create a presumption. If the officer had probable cause to believe that a motorist's was still impaired, even though their BAC was below .08 percent, they may bring charges in violation of "impaired to the slightest degree". The impairment, however, cannot be presumed, and must be decided in connection with other probable cause evidence.

The prosecution in this case attempted to prevent the defendant from submitting evidence that showed the partition ratio used to convert the breath reading to a blood reading was variable, meaning inconsistent, or liable to change. The prosecution argued that it planned only to introduce the breath test results for proof that the defendant's BAC exceeded .08 percent; but not to prove the first charge of "impairment to the slightest degree". Since the prosecution was not going to introduce the breath test for the impairment to the slightest degree charge, they argued the defendant could not present the partition ratios related to that breath test to cast doubt on whether or not the defendant was impaired at all.

Experts for both parties testified regarding the partition ratio. The defendant again tried to introduce exculpatory evidence of the partition ratio to that would cast doubt on whether or not he was impaired to the slightest degree. The State argued the defendant's evidence was irrelevant and had the potential create unfair prejudice. The court ruled that partition ratio evidence was in fact relevant whenever breath test results are brought forward by the State. The court of appeals affirmed this ruling. The State then appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.


Arizona Supreme Court Analysis

The Arizona Supreme Court held that evidence is relevant where it can make a material fact in a case more or less probable. If evidence is relevant, it is permitted at trial, unless there is specific rule or provision in the law that prohibits it. In this case, the State was required to prove that the defendant was impaired because he drank alcohol. Therefore evidence of his impairment was relevant.

The AZ Supreme Court recognized the strong correlation between Blood Alcohol Content levels and intoxication. The prosecutors had argued that they had the unilateral ability to invoke the presumption that the defendant was under the influence and the partition evidence was irrelevant because they chose not to invoke the presumption of impairment to the slightest degree.

The Arizona Supreme Court disagreed with this approach by the prosecution. They held that there is nothing that precludes a DUI defendant from presenting partition ratio evidence to show he was not impaired in an impairment case. In fact, they cited specific Arizona Law, A.R.S. 28-1381(H) which specifically provides that any "competent evidence" on the issue of the question of the defendant's impairment in DUI charges brought against them.


Conclusions

In conclusion the Arizona Supreme Court cited Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 524 (1979). Which holds the need to satisfy constitutional requirement presumptions in criminal cases must be rebuttable, enabling either side to provide evidence or argument that challenges or opposes the presumption. Thereby The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed decisions made by all previous courts, Municipal, Superior, and Appeals Court of Arizona, which was to allow the exculpatory evidence regarding partition ratio variability to be admitted to show the defendant's lack of impairment.

Continue reading "Arizona Supreme Court: DUI Partition Ratios Evidence Admissible" »

August 9, 2013

DUI with passengers under age 15 in vehicle raises a DUI to Felony Charges, where penalties are steep.

photo_7587_20081004.jpgDrunk driving can subject you to harsh penalties in Arizona. However, driving drunk with children in the car can lead to even harsher penalties.

Recently, a middle-aged man was stopped in Arizona driving 89 miles per hour in a 65 mph zone. His ten-year-old and twelve-year-old daughters were in the car with him and the sheriff noticed his breath smelled like alcohol. His Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was .253 percent over 3 times the legal limit for alcohol in Arizona. The man admitted to deputies that he drank a six-pack of beer before driving. He was then charged with aggravated felony DUI, Super Extreme DUI and excessive speed.

An Aggravated DUI charge means that Misdemeanor DUI charges were raised to a felony in violation of Arizona's A.R.S. 28-1383 Aggravated DUI Laws. An impaired driving charge without aggravated circumstances is generally charged as a Misdemeanor. The aggravated factor of having passengers under the age of 15 in the vehicle raise the charges to a felony violation.

Aggravated DUI charges alone are categorized as Class 6 felonies and expose a person to up to 20 days of incarceration; $4,000.00 fines; Driver's License Revocation for 3 years; 2 years Ignition Interlock Device (IID) after driving privileges are reinstated; substance abuse education and counseling; and possible forfeiture of vehicle. These penalties will be more severe if coupled with other DUI or criminal charges, or if they are repeat offenses.

An Extreme DUI is charged when someone has a BAC above 0.150 percent but below 0.199 percent. First-time violations of Extreme DUI convictions expose a person to driver's license suspension for 18 months; fines fees and assessments of $1500.00; 30 days in jail; installation of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) for 1 year; and substance abuse screening and treatment.

The Super Extreme DUI charge was because his BAC level exceeded 0.20 percent under Arizona Super Extreme DUI Laws A.R.S. 28-1382. A first time DUI conviction with a BAC 0.20 percent or higher, calls for maximum jail terms of 45 days: fines, fees, and assessments of $1750.00; IID for 18 months; driver's license suspension; and substance abuse screening, counseling or treatment.

In Arizona, the higher the BAC, the more severe the sentencing related to most all the penalties. Repeat violations can also result in aggravated DUI charges, and exposes a person to prison sentencing.

The Aggravated DUI in this case may present even harsher penalties if the man is convicted than the extreme DUI charge. When children under the age of 15 are in the car of a drunk driver, a misdemeanor DUI or DWI is automatically charged as a more serious Class 6 felony, even if it is a first drunk driving offense and the driver has no criminal history. This is because of the significant risk to a child's life from being in the car with a drunk driver.

Someone convicted of felony aggravated driving while under the influence, may be sentenced to prison for 2 ½ years. Not only that but he or she must also attend and complete an alcohol education/treatment program, pay a fine of $750 and additional fees of $1750. His or her driver's license will be revoked for 3 years. He or she will also be required to install an ignition interlock device on any car he operates for more than a year. Installation of the device typically costs money, too.

DUI and child endangerment convictions will usually have an adverse impact on civil and parental rights as well as criminal penalties. Convictions may result in a court order reducing of parenting you have with a child, for example if you have joint custody. It can also impact your civil rights such as causing you to be classified as a "prohibited user" due to the felony charge; and other consequential losses.

DUI charges involve multi-facet circumstances, evidence, laws, penalties and consequences. And the punishments can impact your life, and that of your family, adversely for many years into the future. There is a lot at stake in the way of your future and freedoms that you currently enjoy.

Continue reading "Aggravated DUI Laws and Penalties in Arizona " »

July 17, 2013

Arizona has the toughest Sheriff in the Country, and now the toughest Marijuana DUI laws.

439288_roach.jpgDriving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in Arizona under Arizona Revised Statutes (Section 28-1381(A)).

In Arizona, motorists are prohibited not only from driving while impaired by the effects of marijuana, but also "while there is any drug defined in section 13-3401 or its metabolite in the person's body." Recent case law exists that allows for prosecution under this law in Arizona, even if the motorist was not driving impaired. That is, if the only substance found in their bodily system was residual trace compounds that were present due to Marijuana smoked or ingested weeks prior to the DUI stop, they may still be prosecuted.

Frequent Marijuana users, especially Medical Marijuana users, have been known to tolerate anywhere from 2 to 5 times of what would be considered the legal limit of Marijuana in some of the states that have legalized it in some fashion, and still drive without impaired function in driving skills.

We provided a post post on this ruling several months ago. This is refresher and update on the topic since the ruling could have broad impacts throughout the country. A US Supreme Court ruling that would hold this decision in favor of prosecuting the non-impaired motorist, could potentially have serious consequences not only for Arizona residents, but also for people from out of state who are driving to or through Arizona and used marijuana a month before their trip. We believe that the defendant is appealing the case to the Supreme Court, but there is no word on whether the court has decided to hear this case as of yet.

A first time marijuana DUI offense can be punished by up to six months in jail, as well as with a mandatory substance abuse program and the requirement that you install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle. If convicted of only driving under the influence of marijuana (as opposed to marijuana and alcohol), your driver's license will also be revoked for a year.

The active ingredient in marijuana is the drug THC. Unlike blood alcohol tests, a blood test for marijuana cannot determine how intoxicated or impaired you might be from the THC. THC is rapidly metabolized in the blood stream and turns into about eighty different molecules called metabolites. These metabolites are stored in the user's body fat. Some of them have a half life of twenty hours, but others can take 10-13 days to be eliminated from the body. When a blood test is taken, certain non-active metabolites may show up on the test. Anecdotally, some heavy marijuana smokers have reported positive test results well over a month after stopping smoking.

Earlier this year in the case Arizona v. Shilgevorkyan, an Arizona appellate court ruled that any motorist with any metabolite or marijuana in their bloodstream could be convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana. The defendant had been stopped for speeding and unsafe lane changes and agreed to take a blood test. One metabolite, Carboxy-THC was found in his bloodstream.

The defendant argued that it was not "the" metabolite referred to in the statute. His attorney put forward an expert who testified that this metabolite was not psychoactive and could take 4 weeks to leave the body. The superior court agreed with him, but the State appealed. The appellate court looked at the legislative intent of the statute and determined that the statute intended to outlaw any of the metabolites into which THC metabolizes.

The medical marijuana bill barely passed in Arizona--it was defeated in 12 out of 15 counties and as the case described above shows, Arizona continues to penalize drug use very harshly even if it happened in the past.

Continue reading "Arizona Marijuana DUI Laws " »

July 1, 2013

All DUI convictions carry harsh penalties. But, by far aggravated DUI expose a person to the harshest sentencing.

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In 2012, a total of 7,696 Extreme DUI arrests were made representing 29% of the total 26,334 DUI arrests; and aggravated DUI (felony) arrests 3124 representing 12% of all DUI arrests last year.

A majority of DUI arrests in Arizona are misdemeanors. Even Extreme DUI charges are brought as misdemeanors. However, a misdemeanor will be elevated to an Aggravated DUI (felony) when certain factors are present surrounding the DUI charge, as defined under A.R.S. 28-1383.

For example, a driver was recently arrested for DUI for driving with a suspended license while approximately four times over the legal limit, Maricopa County. Under these circumstances a motorist is exposed charges of aggravated DUI (felony DUI). Prosecutors bring charges of aggravated or felony DUI when not only is a driver impaired by alcohol or illegal substances, but he or she (1) has a suspended, cancelled, revoked or restricted license or (2) has two DUI convictions within seven years of the current DUI or (3) has been ordered to have an ignition interlock device on a car.

It is illegal to drive with .08% Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). However, in Arizona, a driver does not need to have blood alcohol levels this high to be charged. It is illegal to drive even when you are only slightly impaired by alcohol or illegal substances.

A driver may also be charged with more serious offenses when the blood alcohol levels exceed the legal limit. If a driver's blood alcohol level is .15% or more you can be charged with extreme DWI. In addition to Extreme DUI (.15%) Arizona also has Super Extreme DUI laws. A person can be charged with super extreme DWI, if their BAC is .20 % or higher. Assuming the additional circumstances described above are met, aggravated DUI can be charged for regular DUIs, as well as for extreme DWI or super extreme DWI.

Generally, the higher the BAC for which a person is convicted, the more harsh the penalties. This includes longer incarceration terms. But by far the harshest penalties go to people who are convicted of an aggravated DUI. An aggravated DUI is a Class 4 felony. However, it can also be charged as a Class 6 felony if you are impaired and driving with a child under the age of 15 in the car. Felony DUI may also be charged if someone is severely injured or killed while the driver was under the influence.

The penalties for an aggravated DUI in Arizona can be harsh. There is a mandatory minimum of 4 months in prison and up to 3.75 years in prison. "Mandatory minimum" means that the judge is required to sentence you to at least that amount (4 months) in prison regardless of how good one's character or lack of prior record.

For example, if you have had two prior DUIs and you drink a glass of wine at happy hour, and as a result you weave in and out of traffic and get pulled over by the police, you could face aggravated DUI charges. If you are so charged, the judge is required to sentence you to at least four months in prison.

On top of the mandatory minimum prison time, you may face fines and costs that together exceed $4600. A person's driving privileges may be revoked for a year and you may be placed on probation. An aggravated DUI will be on a person's record, which means a person's sentence could be enhanced in the future if you are ever again convicted of a felony.

Moreover, on future job applications, you will have to answer that you have been convicted of a felony, thereby limiting the kinds of work that will be available to you. There is a significant social stigma attached to felony convictions. If a person's license has been revoked, it can be difficult to get to work, thereby further impacting a person's employment prospects.

If you are charged with a Class 6 felony DUI, there are no mandatory minimums. However, you can be sentenced to prison for up to two years. There is a mandatory license revocation.

Continue reading "Felony DUI Laws, and Penalties in Arizona " »

June 23, 2013

All Meth crimes in Arizona are Charged as felonies; all felonies expose a person to prison.

215628_addiction.jpgLaw enforcement officers recently conducted the biggest methamphetamine bust in Maricopa County's history. Sheriffs investigated for several months before locating 18 bricks of meth (51 pounds) worth almost $1 million. The twenty-six year old suspect who possessed the bricks was arrested for meth possession and other felony charges. As outlined below, he may face serious prison time, depending on his prior felony record and other factors.

Earlier this year, Phoenix AZ participated in "Operation Justice V" sponsored by the U.S. Marshall. In one week 231 persons without outstanding felony warrants were arrested. A large number of those were wanted for "Dangerous Drug" offenses including Meth crimes.

The possession and sale of meth is a growing illegal drug market in Arizona, and some believe it has reached crisis proportions, now affecting teenagers as well. Even though Arizona's teenage meth use has declined in recent years, Arizona remains among the top 10 states for teen meth use.

Meth is highly addictive and affects the neurotransmitter dopamine. It can be smoked, injected or snorted. Users experience a rush as well as increased energy, reduced appetite, and increased respiration. There is a danger of violent behavior, irritability or psychosis. Importantly, long-term use of methamphetamines can cause brain damage that is akin to Alzheimer's.

Due to the addictive nature of Methamphetamines and other Dangerous Drugs, they have been found to lead other serious crimes by users, and dealers that include theft, burglary, assault, sexual assault, aggravated assault, home invasions, even murder.

Meth is classified in the Arizona Revised Statutes as a "dangerous drug." Other "dangerous drugs" include LSD, ecstasy, mushrooms, mescaline and GHB. Willful possession of a dangerous drug can subject anyone who is convicted to serious punishments at the sentencing stage.

Possession of methamphetamine is a Class 4 felony, until someone possesses more than 9 grams, as in the case described above. Then it is charged as a Class 2 felony because it is assumed to be possession for sale. It is important to note that possession of methamphetamine cannot be charged simply as a misdemeanor, even if you have no priors.

Penalties are increased substantially for possession of large quantities of meth. If someone possesses more than 9 grams and it is a first offense, the presumption is that it is for sale. In that case, the minimum imprisonment sentence is five years, the presumptive sentence is 10 years and the maximum sentence is 15 years. However, if someone possesses more than 9 grams and it is not a first offense, the increase in sentencing jumps dramatically. A minimum imprisonment sentence for possession for sale of meth on a second offense is 10 years.

First time drug offenders are eligible for a deferred prosecution program in which they participate in probation during which the offender is subject to drug testing among other things. If they do not meet conditions of their probation, they may face jail time.

The Arizona Revised Statutes permit mitigation or enhancement of a sentence for reasons such as prior criminal convictions, the amount of the drug, and more. If charged with a Class 2 felony and aggravating factors, a defendant can face over 12 years in prison.

The sentencing laws are even harsher for those convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine. In response to the meth crisis, in 2000, Arizona's child abuse law was expanded to include a presumption of endangerment when children or vulnerable adults are found at meth labs.


Additional Resources:

About Meth (Arizona Attorney General)
Arizona Drugs Defined Under Criminal Code
Mesa AZ Police Department

June 11, 2013

Possession of 2-4 pounds indicator of commercial dealings. Convictions call for mandatory prison.

131369_pot_of_gold.jpgCultivation or manufacture of marijuana for non-medicinal purposes (or growing outside the strict guidelines provided in connection with medical marijuana cards) remains a felony in Arizona. Those arrested and prosecuted for felony marijuana manufacturing can face serious punishments at sentencing.

There have been several significant arrests in Phoenix and Tucson for cultivation of marijuana recently. In mid-May, Tucson police found a house where 356 marijuana plants in various stages of growth were growing. They also found $18,000 in cash. On June 3, 2013 a canine unit from the Arizona Department of Public Safety found a driver carrying 7 pounds of marijuana. After arresting him, the Arizona Department of Public Safety searched his house in Phoenix and found 100 marijuana plants as well as handguns and growing equipment.

Marijuana cultivation for non-medicinal purposes is not only illegal, but can also be physically dangerous. On June 6, 2013, a marijuana grow house with about 1 dozen marijuana plants caught fire. The firefighters observed lighting, heaters, and Styrofoam insulation. Equipment used to grow marijuana can require an enormous amount of electricity.

As a result of the equipment used to grow large quantities of marijuana, circuits can get overloaded and wires get overheated, resulting in a fire. An entirely sealed room may require a dehumidifier, which also consumes electricity. Failure to control humidity can lead to mold or rotted wood. If propane powered generators are used, there is also the chance of explosion. Depending upon the circumstances, causing a fire and the ensuing property damage or injury to a person can lead to additional civil or criminal penalties beyond those levied for marijuana manufacturing.

Marijuana cultivation for non-medicinal purposes carries different punishments based on the dried weight of the marijuana. In addition to jail or prison time, those convicted of marijuana cultivation must also pay $750 in fines. If convicted of cultivating an amount less than 2 pounds, sentencing may be for a Class Five felony. As a first offense, marijuana manufacturing can be punished with prison for between 6-2.5 years in custody. A judge may offer a first time offender probation instead. If the defendant has one or more prior felony convictions, incarceration times increase even for this small amount.

If convicted of cultivating a quantity of marijuana with a dry weight of 2-4 pounds, the cultivation is a Class 4 felony that carries a mandatory prison sentence of 1 to 3.75 years of incarceration. With one prior felony conviction, the mandatory prison range is 2.25-7.5 years prison. The amount of mandatory prison time increases the more prior felony convictions a defendant has.

Marijuana cultivated in an amount that exceeds 4 pounds dried is a Class 3 felony with a mandatory prison sentence of 2-8.75 years in prison. This amount can increase up to 25 years of incarceration with two prior felony convictions.

Other penalties may apply in a situation involving a marijuana grow room or outside crop. A defendant may be charged not only with manufacture or cultivation, but also possession, sales, or trafficking depending upon the circumstances. As mentioned above, there may be property damage or other problems associated with a grow room.

There are several defenses to a charge of cultivating marijuana that an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to raise. A number of these have a constitutional basis and involve the police following flawed procedures. For example, if the police coerced you into making a confession or failed to read you your "Miranda rights," the evidence obtained this way is not admissible at trial. Similarly, where search warrants were not obtained or obtained improperly, they may violate Fourth Amendment rights.

Under certain circumstances, people are arrested and charged who were not aware of marijuana cultivation. This may happen, for example, on a rental property if marijuana is growing outside in a small part of a garden.

If you are arrested for manufacturing marijuana or for another marijuana-related offense, you should retain an attorney knowledgeable about these types of cases to defend and protect your rights. Contact The Law Office of James Novak at 480-413-1499 for a free consultation.


Additional Resources:

Arizona Drug DUI Laws
Arizona Drugs Defined Under Criminal Code
Mesa AZ Police Department

More Blogs

Arizona's Medical Marijuana Law Stands Ground, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, June 4, 2013

Marijuana DUI: The Impact of Montgomery v. Harris, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, March 13, 2013

June 4, 2013

But Medical Marijuana Card Holders Not without Risk

540325_plantator.jpgAlmost three years after passage, Medical marijuana remains controversial in Arizona. Medical Marijuana was legalized in 2010 through voter passage of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA). The purpose of the AMMA is to protect patients with debilitating medical conditions, so that they can obtain necessary relief.

AMMA allows patients to get a registration identification card to show law enforcement officers that they are permitted to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Visitors from another state that recognizes medical marijuana, like California, with equivalent cards are also protected.

Notwithstanding these state protections, some law enforcement officers refuse to recognize the card. Federal law, which trumps state law, does not recognize or permit a medicinal use for marijuana. An appellate case heard earlier this year further legitimized medical marijuana cards, but the facts of the case illustrate that it there are still risks from a legal perspective to be a medical marijuana user in Arizona.

In the case, a California driver (the defendant) was stopped when she entered Arizona. The authorities found and seized marijuana and other contraband. The State filed drug charges against the driver, dismissing them only after she produced proof of permission to use marijuana for medical purposes. The Superior Court ordered that the driver's marijuana be returned.

The State appealed. It argued that the superior court could not order the sheriff to return the marijuana and that Arizona law not only requires "summary forfeiture" of any marijuana seized by law enforcement, but the sheriff could not return the driver's marijuana or risk violating federal law and getting prosecuted.

The appellate court reasoned that law enforcement officers did not seize the marijuana in connection with a drug offense, since the driver was permitted to possess marijuana for medical purposes. Nor could the State win on the grounds that it could keep marijuana that came into its possession. This was because to do that would require either bringing civil forfeiture proceedings, or to be holding drugs possessed in a crime. Since AMMA decriminalized medical marijuana, the latter situation did not exist.

The State also argues that the AMMA did not expressly require them to return marijuana from a qualifying patient. The appellate court disagreed. It noted that no penalty could be placed on a qualified patient under the statute.

The State had also argued that the sheriff could be prosecuted for transferring marijuana under federal law. This, too, the appellate court repudiated. Federal law "immunizes" law enforcement officials who follow a court order.

The State's final argument was that the superior court could not order that the driver's marijuana be returned to her because her possession was a federal crime. The appellate court declined to decide whether federal law preempted AMMA for purposes of adjudicating this case. There was no actual or threatened prosecution of the driver under federal law, and the State was not a party with a personal stake who had standing to argue that federal law prevented the driver from possessing the marijuana. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the ruling of the superior court.

It's clear that this will not be the last time a defendant will have to deal with a situation in which state law enforcement attempt to ignore AMMA. Officers may continue to arrest drivers, requiring them to come to court to fight the charges brought against them.


Additional Resources:

Arizona Drug DUI Laws

Arizona Court of Appeals Division 1

Arizona Drugs Defined Under Criminal Code

Continue reading "Arizona's Medical Marijuana Law Stands Ground " »

May 29, 2013

Why Missouri v. McNeely won't have much impact in Maricopa County

1066864_police_cruiser.jpgA recent U.S. Supreme Court decision may not change Arizona DUI law, but it may bring the rest of the nation more in line with Arizona's policies.

Phoenix AZ court's Search Warrant Center is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for police to obtain a warrant via "eSearch". According to Phoenix Police, an officer can now obtain a search warrant within minutes. So the fact that the body's Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) levels naturally decrease over time should not compel police, to bypass a search warrant. This is because the BAC levels take hours to decline, and will not be reduced drastically within 10 minutes.

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that police must obtain a warrant before forcing someone suspected of drunk driving to take a blood test. The US Supreme Court's decision was that the mere fact that the body reduces BAC levels over time, is in and of itself not an "exigent" circumstance, and that each case should be decided based on it's own set of facts.

Generally, a warrantless search of a person (including invasive searches of the body like a blood test) is considered reasonable if it falls into a recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In Arizona, the police are required to obtain a warrant in order to proceed with a blood test.

One such exception exists when the "exigencies of the situation" present such a compelling law enforcement need that it is objectively reasonable for an officer to bypass getting a warrant. The Supreme Court found no such exception here.

The case arose when a state trooper saw the defendant driving erratically. When the state trooper pulled him over, the defendant refused to take a Breathalyzer test, so the officer drove him to a nearby hospital and ordered him to take a blood test to measure his alcohol levels.

The officer did not seek a warrant to test the defendant's blood and it turned out he had very high blood alcohol levels. When the defendant was put on trial, he moved to suppress the results of the blood test on the grounds that it had violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

The State of Missouri argued that the officer's failure to obtain a warrant was due to exigent circumstances that demanded he depart from the usual rule requiring a warrant. According to the State, because alcohol in the bloodstream slowly and predictably reduces with time, the evidence of the defendant's DUI would be lost or destroyed during the time it would have taken to get a warrant. Missouri's guidelines apparently allowed police officers broad discretion about whether to order a blood test under such circumstances.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the State's argument, stating that under most conditions, there is enough time to get a warrant to test blood by using email or cellphones to contact the magistrate. Justice Sotomayor wrote that whether an emergency made it necessary to forgo the warrant would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis with justification being offered in court later.

Around the same time that the Supreme Court heard this case, Phoenix police sped up the search warrant process by installing a program in all police patrol car computers called eSearch Warrant Application. This allows an officer to send a warrant from the car directly to a judge, who can approve or reject the document on a laptop from the bench. The application was first installed in seven police DUI vans last fall.

The expediency of the warrant process using this software application makes it more critical than ever that if you are pulled over for drunk driving, you call an experienced Phoenix DUI lawyer to handle your case. Contact the experienced Phoenix DUI attorneys of The Law Offices of James Novak at (480) 413-1499 to build a solid defense.

Additional Resources
Arizona DUI Laws
Arizona Governor's Office of Highway Safety
National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration

More Blogs

Prescription Drug DUI Charges, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, January 28, 2013
Marijuana DUI: The Impact of Montgomery v. Harris in Arizona, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, March 13, 2013

May 25, 2013

DUI one of four main causes of fatal and serious auto accidents on Arizona roadways.

298987_bbq_1.jpgEnforcement of Arizona's tough DUI laws tend to ramp up in May, especially over Memorial Day weekend and around graduation festivities. Last year, police arrested 3,129 people for DUIs between May 1 and May 31st, 556 of those arrests were made over Memorial Day weekend.

Police agencies statewide have joined together over the past month to patrol for people who are drinking and driving. These efforts are funded by grants from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, which also funds training for field sobriety tests, blood draws, drug recognition and equipment.

Tempe Police is at least one law enforcement agency that announced heightening enforcement from May 24th through May 27th. They have committed increased patrols and mobile units throughout the city and will be saturated in downtown Tempe AZ. Minor Consumption violations and prevention are a main focus.

Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) reported that last year at this time 5 fatalities resulted from 4 separate collisions, and 85 people were injured. Arizona DPS indicated that impaired driving due to alcohol or drugs was one of 4 main causes of fatalities and serious injuries. Other causes included speeding, seat belt violations, and fatigue or drowsy driving. And while it was not mentioned in the AZ DPS press release, some recent studies and reports show that "texting while driving" is also one of the main causes of motor vehicle fatalities and serious injuries.

It announced late last week that it will be "especially vigilant" on the state's highways for this weekend to reduce the number of fatalities, injuries, traffic, and impaired driving violations. The AZ DPS is reminding everyone to be patient on the roadway while driving, get enough rest before trips, and obey traffic and seat belt laws, and refrain from drinking and driving; and "texting and driving".

Tips from the police for the weekend include using public transportation or a completely sober designated driver. All drivers should be aware that in Arizona, adults can be arrested for drunk driving even if their Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is below .08, if they are impaired to the slightest degree by the amount they drank.

Over Memorial Day weekend, particularly at family outings, some parents may let their older teenagers drink. While some states allow those under 21 to have a BAC of .01 or .02, Arizona has a zero tolerance policy for drunk drivers under the age of 21. Those under 21 may not even have even a BAC of .01%. A relatively recent case looked at the issue of blood tests for BAC for juvenile drivers, and the facts of the case are worth considering if you are a teenager or a parent.

In that case, a monitor at a seventeen-year-old defendant's school smelled marijuana on his clothing in 2012. The monitor searched the vehicle the defendant and his friends had driven to school and found drug paraphernalia. School officials reported this to the police and the sheriff arrived and advised the defendant of his Miranda rights. Nonetheless the defendant admitted that he and his friends had smoked marijuana away from campus and driven back.

The defendant was arrested and charged with drunk driving. The sheriff read him admonitions related to the implied consent law for blood tests and the defendant agreed to submit to testing. His parents were called and came to the school. Meanwhile, the defendant's blood was tested without his parent's consent. His parents were told he was caught smoking marijuana and arrested, but weren't asked for permission to test the blood that had been drawn.

Before a delinquency hearing, the defendant moved to suppress the blood test results. He argued that, as a minor, he lacked the legal ability to consent to testing. The juvenile court granted his motion, reasoning that the Arizona Parents' Bill of Rights includes the right to consent before a minor's blood is tested, notwithstanding Arizona's implied consent law. It also found that the defendant's consent hadn't been voluntary.

The State appealed the juvenile court's decision. The State argued that the Parents' Bill of Rights was inapplicable because the parental right to consent did not prevent law enforcement officers from acting in their official capacities within the scope of their authority.

The appellate court reasoned that anybody who operates a motor vehicle in Arizona, including minors, gives consent to alcohol testing of blood, breath and urine in the context of a DUI allegation. Although someone cannot be blood tested in a DUI stop without a warrant, drivers are already assumed to have given consent. They can withdraw the consent that has been given, but they face penalties for doing so.

Continue reading "Statewide Arizona DUI Enforcement Increased over Memorial Day Weekend " »

May 17, 2013

1409595_gavel_5-1.jpgThe Court of Appeals of Arizona recently decided an appeal regarding aggravated DUI in the case State of Arizona v. John Patrick McDonagh. This is an interesting case that works in favor of DUI defendants. It arose when the State charged the defendant with four counts of aggravated DUI. These were all variations on the same facts, including: (1) drunk driving on a suspended license, (2) drunk driving with a BAC over .08 on a suspended license, (3) third instance of drunk driving within 84 months, and (4) driving with a BAC over .08 on a third offense.

The defendant was convicted of all four of these. During a sentencing hearing, the judge imposed a minimum mandatory 4-month term in prison followed by two years of probation. The court ordered the prison terms and the probation to run concurrently. It also ordered significant "Assessments" totaling $4,630 per count. From the way the court wrote the order, it was not clear whether these Assessments were imposed concurrently or if this was the sum the defendant had to pay per count.

The defendant appealed solely with respect to the issue of the Assessments. He argued that there shouldn't have been four separate Assessments assessed for four felony convictions all arising from the same driving incident. He didn't raise a constitutional issue, but rather a prohibition found in the state statutes. Specifically the code states, "[a]n act or omission which is made punishable in different ways by different sections of the laws may be punished under both, but in no event may sentences be other than concurrent."

The appellate court asked the parties to report how his payments were applied. The parties' reports revealed that the court's clerk applied the payment such that each dollar was credited to only one, not four counts.

Continue reading "Arizona Court Rules Against Imposition of Non-concurrent Assessments" »

March 13, 2013

Arizona Court of Appeals rules non-impairing Marijuana ingredients qualify for DUI prosecution.

A recent Marijuana DUI dismissal was overturned in favor of the state and moved for continued prosecution in the Arizona Court of Appeals.

The main legal issue was whether or not a motorist could be prosecuted for Marijuana DUI when the only evidence revealed on a blood test was an inactive chemical compound in Marijuana. In this case, the drug compound was one that does not cause impairment, "Carboxy-THC". This is a residual compound known to stay in a person's blood stream for 3 to 4 weeks after Marijuana use.

The inactive or non-impairing compound was examined in contrast to the known active ingredient THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol. THC has been successfully argued in courts as one that causes driving impairment.

The lower court dismissed the case before appeal, on the basis that the motorist was not driving impaired. But the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that both the active compound and the inactive compound fall within Arizona DUI Law A.R.S. 28-1381, so the motorist could still be subject to prosecution.

The impact of this ruling is that the prosecution does not need to prove that the driver was impaired. In order to prosecute the motorist for DUI with Marijuana, as long as at least one of the two compounds can be identified in the DUI blood test evidence. Another adverse impact is that a person may have used the Marijuana legally in another state, days or weeks prior to driving in Arizona, and still be arrested for Marijuana DUI.

The Arizona Court of Appeals indicated that this ruling shall not be used to set precedent. However, this presents challenges in consistency for the courts since other cases similar to this are pending prosecution.


Arizona Drug DUI Law

Currently under Arizona law A.R.S. 28-1381 a person may be guilty of DUI under the following circumstances:

(1) While under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs while they are impaired to the slightest degree; or

(2) If the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more, within two hours of driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle and the alcohol was consumed either before or while driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle; or

(3) While there is any drug defined in section A.R.S.13-3401 or its metabolite in the person's body.

A person driving under the influence of Marijuana could be arrested under items (1) or (3) depending on the circumstances of the Marijuana DUI. It is not a defense if the person is a qualified Medical Marijuana user.


Criminal Defense Attorney for Drug DUI charges Mesa, AZ

If you face any type of drug DUI charges in Arizona, you should always consult a qualified criminal attorney to discuss your case. Arizona has some of the most strict laws, and severe penalties for DUI conviction in the state. Sentencing for drug DUI charges are the same or similar to those of drunk driving. They include jail terms, suspension of driver's license, probation, substance abuse screening and counseling; fines, fees, and assessments. Other penalties may apply. If retained an experienced criminal lawyer will protect your rights, and defend your charges. There may be defenses that you are not aware of that could lead to a dismissal of charges, or otherwise favorable outcome in your case.


Additional Resources:

Arizona Drug DUI Laws

Arizona Court of Appeals Division 1

Arizona Drugs Defined Under Criminal Code

Mesa AZ Municipal Court

Mesa AZ Police Department


Continue reading "Marijuana DUI: The Impact of Montgomery V. Harris in Arizona " »

January 28, 2013

If you plan to move or travel to Arizona; you should become familiar with Arizona's strict prescription drug DUI laws.

A person may be arrested in Arizona for a DUI, if they are not driving drunk, and even if they have had no alcohol at all. Last year Drug impairments accounted for 15% of all DUI arrests in Arizona. Police attribute many of these to Prescription DUI violations. If a motorist is driving impaired due to Prescription-only medications solely or in combination with alcohol, they may be exposed to a DUI Arrest. Convictions for drug related driving impairments are generally as severe as those for alcohol related impaired driving charges.


Arizona Prescription Drug DUI Laws

A.R.S. 28-1381 - In Arizona it is unlawful for a person to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle, if the person is "impaired to the slightest degree" while:

• Under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, a vapor releasing substance containing a toxic substance or any combination of liquor, drugs or vapor releasing substances if the person is impaired to the slightest degree;
• If the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more within two hours of driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle;
• Due to any drug defined under A.R.S. 13-3401 or its metabolite in a person's bodily systems.


Prescription Drug DUI Penalties

A person found guilty of driving impaired due to prescription drugs will be convicted of a Class 1 Misdemeanor. Penalties first offense Drug DUI convictions include 10 days in jail; substance abuse education and screening; fines, fees, costs of $1250.00; 90 day driver's license suspension; and probation; and Ignition Interlock Device (IID) one year.

A second violation, within 7 years is a Class 1Misdemeanor. Penalties include 90 days jail; $3,000.00 fines, fees, costs; license revocation for one year; probation; Ignition Interlock Device (IID); and probation.

A third DUI violation of any kind within 7 years, with two prior DUI convictions elevates a DUI to a Class 4 Felony, or Aggravated DUI to a Class 4 Felony. Penalties call for 4 months in prison for the third DUI; and 8 months for subsequent impaired driving convictions; fines, fees, costs of at least $4,000.00; driver's license revocation for 3 years; ignition interlock device (IID) 2 years; probation or community service; and a felon criminal record.

These penalties may vary slightly, and additional penalties may apply.

Prescription Drugs Defined

A.R.S. 13-3401 (28) includes the definition of "Prescription only drug" and means;

• Any toxic or potentially harmful drug as recognized in the general medical community; and
• Is considered safe to use only under the supervision of a licensed and qualified medical practitioner;
• Limited or approved for use as new drug under Federal Rules and medical supervision; of a medical practitioner.
• Potentially harmful drugs with labeling that includes proper directions for use;
• Drugs required by the Federal Rules to include labeling with the test "Federal law prohibits dispensing without prescription" or "Rx only".


Criminal Attorney for Prescription Drug DUI defense Gilbert AZ

Arizona has some of the toughest laws and penalties for conviction in the county. If you are arrested for any type of impaired driving in Arizona due to alcohol or drugs, your future and freedom are in jeopardy. But you have the right to defend their charges, and by law are innocent until proven guilty. You should consult a criminal defense attorney, regarding your matter before deciding to plead "guilty". If retained, a qualified legal advocate will protect your rights and defend your charges. There may be defenses you are not aware of that could lead to a case dismissal, reduction of charges, or mitigation in sentencing.


Additional Resources:


Arizona Prescription Drug Definition

Arizona DUI Laws

Gilbert AZ Police DUI Enforcement Units

Criminal Court Gilbert AZ

Arizona MADD.org

Continue reading "Prescription Drug DUI charges " »